The Los Baños Nurses and My Grandfather

If you have never heard of the nurses captured by the Japanese in the Philippines you really should look in to it. It is some next level dedication to duty. I’ll give a brief summary but there is a lot more depth to it that is worth looking in to.

Lt. Cmdr. Laura Cobb was the chief nurse at the Canacao Naval Hospital in Manila when the Japanese attacked. She and ten more of her staff elected to stay behind with the wounded. Later after the fall of Corregidor she was joined by other nurses and prisoners and moved to the Santo Tomas prison camp. Later she was moved to the Los Baños POW camp and in charge of caring for the prisoners there until liberated by a joint 11th Airborne and Filipino guerilla force.

Liberated Nurses at Leyte, Philippine Islands
The 11 liberated Navy nurses with Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid on 23 February 1945. Left to right: Susie Pitcher, Dorothy Still, Basilia Stewart, Goldie O’Haver, Eldene Paige, Vice Admiral Kinkaid, Mary Chapman, Laura M. Cobb, Maureen Davis, Mary Nelson (née Harrington), Helen Gorzelanski, Bertha Evans, Margaret Nash, Helen Grant, and Edwina Todd

Even after years in captivity and deplorable conditions they still put the needs of the service men a head of their own. Before they left for home they stuck around to take down the names and addresses of whoever they could so that when they got back to the US they could send letters to their families. Not picking up letters, writing the letters. Think about that for a second. They have spent years in Japanese prison camps and are finally free. The last thing I would have on my mind is writing and sending letters out for a bunch of people I have no connection with and never met before. But that is exactly what they did.

This is where my grandfather comes in. He was in the Philippines and word was going around that the nurses were taking letters back with them to the US to send to their families. So he heading into Manila and found the nurses and met with none other than Laura Cobb the chief nurse who wrote a nice personized letter to his family from the notes she took to send to his family.

The second letter is from another of the nurses, Lt Margaret Nash. The personal nature of the letters blows me away considering they probably had to write hundreds, and handwritten not typed either. Also something humbling is the nature of communication back then. Even though all these men were in regular units or even at air bases they could not get word back to their families that they were. The opportunity to have someone who was going back to take word with you was the best chance. It is pretty mind blowing today.

So not the most exciting historical event or biggest connection to it but still an interesting footnote.

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